Boondocking 101: How To Camp For Free In Beautiful Places

Free campsite in California’s Los Padres National Forest

Like everything else these days, camping is expensive. Most National Parks are $20 a night and a campsite at a state park in California will set you back $35! If I regularly camped at State Parks, National Parks, Recreation Areas or KOA’s I couldn’t afford to live on the road. To save money and seek solitude, I stick to public lands – BLM, National Forests and National Grasslands –  where the camping is free and the crowds are nonexistent.

Wyoming BLM. Brown wooden signs in that shape always catch my eye. They stand for free land!

Dispersed camping, also known as boondocking or coyote camping (how appropriate!), means free camping in remote areas without campground amenities like picnic tables, grills or bathroom facilities. Boondocking is not for everybody, especially the bathroom part, but if you’re willing to rough it a bit, there is a ton of free camping out there.

All BLM, National Forest and National Grasslands are open to dispersed camping, unless otherwise marked. Every so often you might see signs that say “No Camping” or “Camp Only In Designated Campsites”, but usually only near cities or National Park boundaries with a potential for overuse.

Free campsite in the Hoh Rainforest National Forest, Washington’s Olympic Peninsula

On most National Forest lands, you can stay at the same site for a maximum of 14 days. The BLM usually imposes a 21-day limit and Arizona and California have Long Term Visitor Areas where you can park a tent, car, van or RV for months at a time.

No matter where you end up camping or how long you stay, always practice Leave No Trace! That means when you drive away from your campsite, there should be no trace that you were ever there: no new fire rings, no trash, no mess. Take only photographs and leave only footprints!

Free campsite in Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming

In my two weeks in Utah I only paid for three nights of camping (one night at Hovenweep National Monument and two nights at Fisher Towers) and in Wyoming, I have yet to pay for a night of camping. This state is BLM paradise!

For more Boondocking tips check out my posts Boondocking Part 2: Finding A Sweet Free Campsite and Boondocking Part 3: Leave No Trace. For more cheap road tripping tips: How To Budget For A Killer Road Trip and for a breakdown of the cost of life on the road check out: Oh Canada: By The Numbers.

*** This post brought to you by reader request. Got questions about life on the road? Just ask!  :)

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently traveling the backroads from New Mexico to Alaska, writing and living out of a tiny Teardrop camper. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Boondocking 101: How To Camp For Free In Beautiful Places

  1. Rosemary says:

    Hi there, I love your teardrop camper and would love to get more info about it and it’s design! Please contact me via email. Thanks! Rose

  2. M. says:

    I am a recent subscriber and love your posts. You are living my dream. Great pictures and if you are ever in NW WA. state, let me know. I’ve got some insider locations to share with you. Safe travels…
    -M.

    • Richard G says:

      Hi M.,
      I live in western WA and am very interested in your finds for camping in WA. Would you mind sharing?

      Richard

  3. Joni says:

    Your blog is just wonderful! I’m so glad to see women taking adventures. Have fun and pet the pups for me.
    Joni

  4. Chris Major says:

    Thankyou for another great entry,

    I love camping. In England and Wales, there is no legal right to camp wild. In high mountain areas, wild camping is generally accepted if you are discreet. In Scotland, you can camp wild on hill land. I really find it frustrating that the careless actions of a few can limit possibilities for the well behaved majority, but I am also in favour of protecting the beautiful outdoor spaces that I enjoy. I would love to visit some of the wonderful places you share on your blog someday and on my tiny budget off site camping would be a must. I firmly beleve in Leaving no trace so the places we enjoy can be enjoyed by future generations.

    Keep up the sharing your adventures it’s greatly appreciated!!

  5. One of my favorite places to camp for free is at the Breckenridge ski area. I drive my truck up to about 12,000 on the ski area’s dirt service roads to a couple of existing fire pits and set up camp. I check the fire conditions before having a camp fire though.

  6. hehe! Had to laugh at the brown sign that read “Lone Tree Road”. There is a lone tree on that road somewhere, right? :D

    ~Lisa
    Tijeras, NM

  7. Pingback: Boondocking Part 2: Finding a Sweet Free Campsite! « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  8. Riley M says:

    This was such a great read! I have been looking for tips on where to camp, and now I have a few more ideas of where I would like to go. I love the memories that come with camping. Last year, I actually went to the Hoh Rainforest National Forest in the RV, and true to its nature, I was caught in the middle of a downpour. The only place we could safely stay was in the RV, and all we did was watch the football game in HD using the Tailgater that I bought off a co-worker at Dish. It was nice being able to watch a few shows while we were out in the open. I know for sure the Tailgater was a good thing to bring along, and it will come with me when I visit these places!

  9. Pingback: Boondocking Part 3: Leave No Trace! « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  10. Barbara says:

    Where is your favorite place in Wyoming? We’re trying to find a good dispersed camping spot that we can drive up to (and allows dogs) but can’t seem to find anything good. I know it’s out there!

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  13. frank says:

    anyway to get the name of the manufacturer of your teardrop camper? I love the pop-up roof in the front. never seen one like that. any info would be much appreciated.

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  19. Kevin Remmy says:

    My wife and I live in Grand Teton Nat Park , we like to pull our RV up to the bottom of Shadow Mtn , directly east across from the Tetons in Wyo., seriously views and free ! And after traveling this state for three years we are not leaving !

  20. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for the tip about BLS camping. The US Army Corp of Engineers often allows free camping on some of their land. You can search for sites on their website: http://corpslakes.usace.army.mil/visitors/visitors.cfm

  21. Pingback: Summer in Colorado: By the Numbers | Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  22. asariel says:

    Does anybody know of any places near new Hampshire ?

  23. Kevin says:

    I have that same subie, how did you put a hitch on it?

  24. Pingback: Lassen Volcanic National Park: The Best Little Park We’d Never Heard Of | Traveler Mindset

  25. Janet K says:

    anyone know in PA, close to Phila area, where 1 can camp for free & for about 1weeks worth of time? Tryn to offer my daughter the experience of camping for a week or 2, off grid and we dont have money for those paid campsites. Planning to leave Aug5-20th.
    THANK YOU FOR ANY INPUT!!

  26. Tara says:

    Where is the free campsite in the Los Padres National Forest? Is it anywhere near Arroyo Seco? Id really like to go there for my birthday on Aug 12th. But we love privacy and boondock camping. : ) Thanks

  27. keitha says:

    i need to find a good campsite

  28. Keith says:

    Have you heard about HR 5204 where they want to start charging fees for these free use lands?

  29. Marvelous website, thanks for sharing !!

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